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Bailey Zappe in line to start for Patriots Thursday night against Steelers

Bailey Zappe to start Thursday against Steelers
WATCH: Patriots-Steelers games used to be one of the NFL’s best matchups, but not this year. Boston.com sports reporter Khari Thompson has what to expect.

FOXBOROUGH — It appears that Bailey Zappe will be the Patriots’ starting quarterback Thursday night against the Steelers.

There hasn’t been confirmation from coach Bill Belichick, but Zappe told reporters Tuesday that it likely will be him.

”Coach has, you know, made it pretty clear,” Zappe said. “But I’ll let him announce it to everybody. That’s private right now, and whenever he announces it, that’s with him.”

Zappe made his first start of the season on Sunday against the Chargers, completing 13 of 25 passes for 141 yards. He did not commit any turnovers, but the Patriots did not score.

The second-year quarterback said last week’s opportunity meant a lot to him. The Patriots waived Zappe on cutdown day, but he eventually returned to the team and now appears to be in position to make a second start.


”It’s been a long ride, of course, so to be out there was an amazing opportunity,” Zappe said. “We didn’t get the result that we wanted, so hopefully we can learn from it, grow from it, and go on into Thursday and do everything I can to put the team in the best possible situation to win the game.”

Returning to the Patriots was the right decision, Zappe said. The 24-year-old reportedly had offers from other teams after he was cut. Zappe ultimately felt comfortable returning to the Patriots after winning his first two career starts last year.

”This is where I wanted to be. I wanted to play for OB [offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien],” Zappe said. “I wanted to play for Coach Belichick, and I wanted to play with the guys who I built a relationship with over the last year and a half to two years. So, this is where I wanted to be.”

Zappe has made five appearances this season, the first four coming after Mac Jones was benched. Zappe said being able to play a game from start to finish, along with preparation in practice, has been helpful.


”Of course, it’s different,” Zappe said. “But you’ve got to approach every week like Coach always says, everybody has to be ready to play. So, you have to be ready no matter what. You have to prepare like you’re going to be thrown in there whether it’s the second play or the last play. That’s kind of the mentality that we have here. No matter what is going on, be prepared to play.”

Stevenson injury hurts

Rhamondre Stevenson was not spotted at practice after reportedly suffering a high ankle sprain in Sunday’s loss to the Chargers. ESPN reported that the sprain is expected to cause Stevenson to miss “a few weeks.”

”It’s tough. Rhamondre, obviously, is a great back,” tight end Hunter Henry said. “Great guy to have in the locker room. It was tough to see his injury early in the game. Wishing him well, wishing him the best, whatever is next with that. But, this league is always about that next man up.”

Stevenson’s absence will almost certainly bring more carries for Ezekiel Elliott, who has played in all 12 games and rushed for 429 yards on 112 attempts (3.8-yard average) with a pair of touchdowns. Elliott and Stevenson have combined for the vast majority of the team’s rushing attempts. All other Patriots, except for Jones, have less than five carries.


The bulk of Ty Montgomery’s touches have been on kickoff returns, but it’s possible that he could get some carries. He has run the ball only three times this season, including once for 2 yards against the Chargers.

The other options are JaMycal Hasty, who was claimed off waivers from the Jaguars last month, and Kevin Harris, a sixth-round pick in 2022 who is on the practice squad.

”It’s another opportunity,” Henry said. “Obviously [Elliott] has done a lot in this league and he has the pedigree and he has shown a lot this year. But, it’s another opportunity for the other guys — JaMycal, Kevin Harris, other guys to step up in the limelight and get more opportunities.”

Schuster going ‘home’ to Pittsburgh

Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster spent the first five seasons of his career playing for the Steelers. He’s looking forward to playing against his former team.

”I’m excited. It’s my first time going back,” Smith-Schuster said. “It will be cool to see Mike Tomlin and play against those boys and then just go out there and get a win.”

Belichick and Tomlin are the longest tenured coaches in the NFL.

”Two guys who have won Super Bowls,” Smith-Schuster said. “They speak the same language and know what it takes to build a team like that.”

Douglas out of practice mix

Rookie receiver Demario Douglas (concussion) did not participate at practice. The limited participants were defensive lineman Christian Barmore (shoulder), linebacker Chris Board (back), receiver Kayshon Boutte (shoulder), offensive lineman Trent Brown (ankle/hand), receiver DeVante Parker (knee), offensive lineman Riley Reiff (knee), and Smith-Schuster (ankle) … The list of players chosen as finalists for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award includes cornerback Jonathan Jones as the Patriots’ nominee. The award recognizes a player for community service and excellence on the field and is named in honor of Payton, the Bears’ late Hall of Fame running back.


Khari Thompson can be reached at khari.thompson@globe.com.